The Society of the Muse of the Southwest was founded in 1983 to support the literary arts in a town better known for painting and sculpture. After 36 years, SOMOS is more vital and active than ever, with year-round workshops and events all over Taos County and a new home base in the center of town.
The literary arts center presents the first edition of its Spoken Word Open Mic Series on Monday (Jan. 14), 7 p.m., hosted by writer Michael Murphy at SOMOS, 108-B Civic Plaza Drive. Participants are invited to start signing up at 6:30 p.m. to share poetry, prose, stories and more.
Murphy has been a participant in the open mic for several years and has hosted it for the past three winters. "The event's originator, Ron Stock, spends winters in Mexico now and asked me to fill in and take it over while he's away," Murphy said.
Murphy's own journey to Taos began outside of Boston. He traversed the continent in an old Volkswagen and spent 18 years in Alaska. "Alaska is so beautiful. I still have a place up there. But Alaskan winters are long and dark and can be depressing. I wanted to write songs in December that weren't about depression."
He began hearing cryptic hints about our Northern New Mexico town -- beguiling words like "You can't be too weird to live in Taos," or, "If you want to live in America but not in America, Taos is the place." Seven years ago, he made the move. He soon found himself at home under the vast Taos skies, becoming active in the Occupy movement and in performance events around town.
"Here in Taos, it is continual renewal," he said. "In Alaska, I'd get inspired in summer. Here, I stay inspired year-round. I started writing slam poetry that evolved into songwriting. Someone called me an 'acappella poet.' I'll sing sometimes, sometimes just speak words."
The SOMOS Spoken Word Open Mic has been a monthly event, most often on every second Monday. "As a writer, the commitment to participate in the open mic gives me a day, a deadline, an accountability. It offers me an opportunity to come up with a few new pieces every month. It's all about the muse -- like the one in SOMOS's name. I walk my dog, I drive my 7-year-old son to school, and new writing starts, inspired by Taos.
"At the open mic events, I'm so inspired by the diversity, the variety of performers and media. Every week you get a variety that's impossible to predict. Another wonderful part of it is that frequently you get first-timers, people who've never walked up to a mic and spoken words in front of people before. One thing that allows for that is that SOMOS is a safe venue. It's not a bar, and it's not a competition. People support each other. They clap, snap, give each other feedback. People stay around afterward and talk, have a coffee, browse the book collection. The emphasis for me is this amazing opportunity to support other artists. We get a great mix -- people who just wander in, or are even visiting from out of state and happen to see it in the Tempo calendar, and consistent performers like our wonderful Tenney Walsh who's been showing up from the start."
Walsh is well-known in Taos (and beyond) for her musical and theatrical talents and accomplishments, as well as for her writing.
"The SOMOS Spoken Word open mic is a wonderful option now that the musical venues' open mics typically don't allow for spoken word any more," Walsh said. "I'm pretty comfortable at this point getting up in front of people and trying out a new song, but I am pretty shy about reading my poetry out loud. Mike Murphy, and original curator Ron, have created a comfortable venue at the new SOMOS digs. It is a supportive, inclusive listening environment for the spoken word in all forms: poetry, screenplay, haiku and more! I really like that SOMOS has the facilities now in town, which they are still fundraising for, to host such a great live event. I find the folks there to be supportive and really listening to each other. Poetry is an uncharted territory for me, so I like having a place to share that feels safe and secure. Mike is a great host and provides a convivial atmosphere. I will hope to be there on Monday with bells on!"
A recent visit to the East Coast had Murphy reflecting on the different values he's found in New Mexico.
"Back East," he said, "if you talk about poetry, about songwriting, the question tends to be, 'Can you make much money off of that?' I'm grateful for having that background, to be able to really appreciate living here, where people more often ask, 'How do you express yourself?' For me, the beauty of this life is the mystery. To just be patient and know that the song will write itself. That's my life, not knowing what's going to happen next week or next year but just showing up every day. There are songs I'll write someday that don't exist yet. That's the most exciting thing -- the songs not yet written."
The event is free, donations are always appreciated. For more information, call (575) 758-0081 or visit somostaos.org.
SOMOS pays off mortgage thanks to Capital Campaign
The Society of the Muse of the Southwest has successfully completed its capital campaign to raise $330,000 to purchase the property it occupies at 108 Civic Plaza Drive. The campaign met its goal Jan. 2, 2019.
“It’s truly amazing,” SOMOS Executive Director Jan Smith said. "When we first started the campaign it felt daunting to consider raising this amount of money to pay off the mortgage. In its 35-year history SOMOS has always operated on a very modest budget, sometimes barely making expenses. Now, through the remarkable generosity of foundations, donors, members, friends, and supporters, we have secured the future of Taos’ literary organization.”
An unexpected bequest to SOMOS received in late 2016 from Sue Carol Francis of Fort Collins, Colo., allowed the literary non-profit organization to make a down payment on the 108 Civic Plaza Drive property, a SOMOS press release states. Guided by consultant Elizabeth Palacios, former director of Taos Community Foundation, SOMOS quietly began raising funds to purchase the building. “In August 2018, SOMOS launched its campaign publicly to raise the additional $90,000 needed to secure its place in the heart of the cultural corridor in the historic district of Taos, and on Giving Tuesday (November 27) the organization launched a GoFundMe to raise the final $25,000,” the release continues.
Since 1983, the primary goal of SOMOS is to provide high-quality workshops, live readings, conferences, and festivals that not only showcase accomplished writers and storytellers, but also encourage creativity in novice writers of all ages and from all walks of life.
In May 2016, SOMOS moved into its headquarters at 108 Civic Plaza Drive. This has increased foot traffic, book sales, attendance numbers for all programs at the SOMOS Salon, and fostered a collaborative relationship with neighbors such as the University of New Mexico-Taos, The Paseo, KCEI-FM 90.1 Cultural Energy Radio, the Taos Center for the Arts and the town of Taos Public Library.
The property includes a large room for both a book store and literary gatherings, two separate classrooms, storage space, and a 12-space parking lot. "The building has three units – our current unit consists of two of the three spaces. The third, a rental unit, gives us income now and offers space for future growth,” according to the release.
For more information, call (575) 758-0081 or visit somostaos.org.